New England Soccer Today

Postcard from the Desert

A Postcard from the Revolution Preseason in Tucson

All photos courtesy of Kari Heistad (capturedimages.biz)

Two years ago, my mother and I fled the snow and cold of February in New England and enjoyed a few days in Tucson getting a jump on the MLS season through the Desert Diamond Cup tournament. We had so much fun the first time around that we decided to follow the Revolution south again last week.

While the main reason to fly down to Tucson is to catch some soccer, there’s also plenty to do in and around the city between games. This time around, we arrived a few hours ahead of the Revs-Dynamo game, the first of each club’s four tournament tilts. At this juncture of the tourney, it wasn’t surprising to see both coaches make wholesale changes to their lineup half way through, and it was fun to watch some of the rookies and those trialing take to the pitch.

On Thursday, we put on our tourist hats and headed down to Tombstone – about 75 miles south of Tucson. From the halfway point of Benson southward, the topography drastically shifts as hills and mountains suddenly rise from the flat Arizona desert. I tried to imagine what this arid, desert land would have been like traveling on horseback 100 years ago and one world came to mind: inhospitable. There is next to nothing of note between Benson and Tombstone, and I can imagine there was little there a century ago as well.

Tombstone exists almost solely as a tourist stop, as evidenced by the old Main Street, which is now littered with Wild West-style shops and saloons, where they re-enact famous gun fights, as well as a few museums showcasing local history. Tombstone’s glory days go back between 1877-1890, when the local silver mines drew crowds of people from across the country and the town’s population peaked at 14,000. Back then it was a booming town that boasted 110 saloons, three newspapers and four churches. While the town’s population plummeted to 600 people at one point, it has slowly rebounded with 1,300 residents today.

The town’s claim to fame is the legendary Shootout at the O.K. Corral, which may or may not have happened there. But why mess up a good legend with a few facts? And, while we are on the track of exploring fact vs. fiction, not everyone is actually buried in the graveyard like they claim. According to one local, there are people buried all throughout the town. But, there is a mystique to maintain, and the people working in town are serious enough about promoting the Wild West image that many of them carry a six shooter – including the woman selling ice cream.

Anyway, back the aforementioned shootout. As legend has it, the duel was between a pack of outlaws (the Cowboys) and lawmen led by the Earp brothers. The shootout was the culmination of a series of skirmishes and it ended with three of the Cowboys dead. But, the violence didn’t end there. In the next five months, Virgil Earp would be ambushed and maimed while Morgan Earp was assassinated. Wyatt Earp and his brother Warren, along with Doc Holiday, formed a federal posse that eventually tracked down and killed the three Cowboys they thought were responsible. Wyatt Earp’s reputation while he was alive was controversial, but after his death, he came to epitomize the idea of the brazen lawman in the west and the shootout only fueled his legend.

After watching re-enactment, Mom and I wandered around Main Street. We stopped at a craft store that had a fantastic quilt exhibit. While we were there, a woman gave a long look at the large backpack I use to carry my camera. She asked how much it weighed, and I replied about 25 pounds fully loaded for a soccer game. “That weighs as much as a saddle!” she said, with a look of surprise on her face. Clearly, I wasn’t in Boston anymore!

From there, we did a little shopping, and I poked me head into the Birdcage Theatre just in time to catch a brief history lesson. The Birdcage was THE place in Tombstone’s heyday, and was a regular stop for performers, prostitutes, and poker players. In fact, it hosted the longest running poker game in history, which ran continuously for eight years, five months, and three days. The game cost $1,000 to get a seat at the table, so it attracted high rollers from across the country and millions of dollars changed hands. The Birdcage closed in the late 1800’s but was bought in 1934 and has been a museum ever since. Granted, it could use some tender loving care, but it is interesting to see the original bar, and the famous Fatima poster complete with bullet and knife holes.

Afterward, we had lunch at a tiny 1950’s-style diner. With only eight seats in total, we easily made our acquaintance with the only waitress on duty, Cici. While originally from Michigan, she had moved to Arizona as a result of a connection, and she ended up working for nine years in the comedy bank robbery show as, you guessed it, a bank robber. She said she learned to shoot a gun, work a crowd, and run up stairs and fall onto a mattress 10 times a day. Compared to that, the diner is straight up relaxing. She was a hoot to chat with.

Following our meal, Mom and I returned to Tucson, and that evening we visited the Sonora National Park East where I photographed the sunset from a spot recommended by the FC Tucson staff photographer. It had a lovely view across the desert with the sun setting behind the western mountains.

On Friday, I photographed Revs practice before we headed west of the city to the Sonora Desert Museum. The museum is one of the most popular museums in the U.S. (who knew?), and after making an initial visit two years ago, we decided to return so I could try and photograph the owl used in their daily raptors free flight demonstration. While it was too windy for the owl, we did get a great demonstration of the aerodynamics of flight from a Peregrine falcon and four Harris hawks. Harris hawks are the only hawk that hunts in groups which increases it chance of hunting success from 10-50%. We also visited the hummingbird enclosure which was just as much fun as it was two years ago. A visit to the museum is a must if you’re in Tucson.

The next morning, we visited a few quilt shops as my Mom was on the hunt for a project she is working on before we stopped off at the Pima Air and Space Museum for some more shopping (see Postcard 1 for more on this). Afterward, we headed to Kino North Stadium for the 1:00pm Revs-Rapids game.

The forecast had predicted high wind and rain, and while I was hoping for dry weather, Mother Nature showed no mercy during the second half with heavy dose of horizontal rain. But most of the fans remained and they were fun to play in front of as they cheered, groaned and gasped loudly for impressive plays, near misses, and a bit of physical play, such as when Andrew Farrell body checked a Rapids forward who was headed towards the Revs goal.

Thankfully, the rain eventually let up, and we stayed for the second game of the afternoon between Sporting Kansas City and the New York Red Bulls before heading back to Phoenix for the red eye back home.

It is clear that Tucson is a preseason destination that works for many MLS clubs, and that is by design. Tucson used to be a Spring Training hub for Major League Baseball, so it was no surprise the weight room at the Kino Sports complex is top-notch. In fact, many of the soccer fields were once baseball diamonds, which were recently transformed into large stretches of lush grass to accommodate the beautiful game. For the last six years, it has been THE place for MLS teams to escape the winter weather and play some preseason games, which give clubs the ability to try new formations and test trialists and rookies. The benefit for fans is that there is plenty to do around the games (see Postcard #1 for more ideas). Plus, getting a break from the snow in February is never a bad thing.

If you’re looking to get a jump start on the MLS season next year, consider a quick trip to Tucson. It won’t disappoint.

Know Before You Go

• The weather can vary greatly. One of the first years the Revs were in Tucson, it snowed during one of their games. Generally though the weather is in the 70’s. But, bring layers for the colder weather just in case.

• Airline ticket prices range quite a bit depending upon when school vacation week is in Massachusetts. Check prices for both weeks the team is in town.

• The people in Tucson are super friendly and helpful and prices are cheaper than New England from food costs to tourist items such as the Tombstone shows that were all $10/person.

• Other tourist places to visit include the Pima Air and Space Museum, Old Tucson if you don’t want to drive to Tombstone and the San Xavier Mission.

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